Stuff for the Teen Age
Top Teen Tearjerkers of 2016
Serving on a book committee can be hard work. For me, one of the most challenging aspects of choosing books for the Best Books For Teens list wasn’t all the reading, but all the crying. Seriously, though, there were a LOT of heart-wrenching books for teens this year.
Some of these books below made our final list, but all of them have enormous potential to move readers to tears. So, be forewarned, and have some tissues handy!
Unbecoming by Jenny Downham
Katie is a 17-year-old girl who made a sudden decision that ruined her life. She kissed her friend Esme, Esme told the rest of her friends, and now all of these girls tease Katie mercilessly. All of this has already happened when the book opens and another major change is taking place. Katie’s grandmother Mary has shown up out of the blue, and she doesn’t recognize anyone or know where she is. She had her daughter Caroline listed as an emergency contact, even though the two of them hadn’t spoken in years. This is a profound and moving story about the complicated lives, relationships, and history of Katie, Caroline, and Mary. Give this book to teens who are looking for realistic fiction, books about family problems, books about mental illness (Alzheimer’s), LGBT issues, and well-drawn characters.
Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
This is the story of a 17-year-old homeless girl named Charlie who cuts herself to try to escape the emotional pain of the abuse that she’s suffered. The story is about how she is trying to rebuild her life, sometimes succeeding but often failing. I kept reading a few chapters at a time and then kept getting so emotionally overwhelmed that I needed to take a break. Honestly, it took me over a month to read it. This is definitely an excellent book for teens, parents, and teachers to read. Just be prepared for mature themes, and don’t be surprised if you can’t read it all the way through without needing a break to recuperate.
Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Hermione Winters is co-captain of the cheerleading team, and a girl who maintains a strong focus on what she wants out of life. She is also a unique protagonist because, while we see the story through her eyes and naturally empathize with her, we also see how other characters (even those closest to her) get frustrated with her because she’s so driven and focused that she sometimes ignores other people’s needs. Hermione is in a position of power until the night someone gives her a spiked drink at a party. She wakes up to discover that someone raped her and then left her in a lake—not submerged enough to drown her, but enough to contaminate any evidence. She transforms from a girl who was strong and sure to a girl who has panic attacks connected to an event that she can’t even remember.
When We Collided by Emery Lord
Jonah and Vivi are falling in love, but things aren’t quite as simple as that. Jonah has lived in Verona Cove forever, but last year his father died and Jonah’s stable world started unraveling. Now he and his older siblings spend their days trying to take care of their younger siblings while worrying about their mother’s debilitating depression. Vivi is visiting the town for the summer, and she brings boundless energy and a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, she is also dealing with mental issues of her own, and choosing not to take all of her prescribed medications. This is a very powerful story with lots of emotional highs and lows. It’s also a story that builds and builds as it goes along—with every pill we see Vivi throw into the ocean (and every lie she tells her mother about those pills) we worry more and more about her next inevitable breakdown.
Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz
This is the story of a boy named Kai who is living in a Japanese coastal village when the earthquakes and tsunami of 2011 hit the country. This is a moving story already, and the decision to tell it through a series of poems means that words are used sparingly but also more powerfully. This is a tragic story that is based on real events that happened in the lifetimes of our teen readers. The emotional connection between these events and the 9/11 attacks in New York City is brought home when Kai and other survivors of the tsunami are brought to New York to visit Ground Zero and meet some of their American counterparts to talk about how these tragedies changed their lives.
The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
I skimmed through this book as I was getting ready to go to bed. I thought … uh-oh. Another rape survivor story. I don’t know if I’m ready to handle that right now. But I started reading it, and a few hours later I was done and I was crying. This is a well-written and compelling story about a girl who takes a terrible secret and pushes it so deep inside her that it starts poisoning her friendships, her relationships, and basically her whole life. You will get angry with Eden, because you want her to tell the truth about what really happened. You will want her friends and family to know and to finally understand why she’s been acting this way. Sometimes we find it hard to empathize with her, but we do understand her. And all we can do is hope that she finds the strength to trust in other people and to finally break her own chains.
All in Pieces by Suzanne Young
Savannah “Savvy” Sutton is a girl with a lot of rough edges. We only see her in the present, as a girl required to be in an alternative high school because of anger management issues. Little by little, she reveals hints of her past and we see how she and her family went into a downward spiral. When her little brother was born and her parents learned that he was disabled, her parents’ marriage started falling apart. Then her mom left and her father started drinking heavily. Then Savvy’s boyfriend called her little brother a "retard" when she tried to break up with him, and she stabbed him in the hand with a pencil. Now she’s gone from a normal life to one where she’s shunned by her old friends, threatened by her ex-boyfriend, and struggling to take care of her little brother while their father tunes them out. Yes, she has anger management issues, but we sympathize with her because we know her motives are pure. And then she meets Cameron in class—handsome, wealthy Cameron, who doesn’t seem like he belongs in a school like this but who is clearly keeping secrets of his own.